George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Category of Genius
Whom do men say that I am?--Mar 8:27
Impossible to Think of Christ as Genius
Among all the recent answers to this question, there is one that has obtained peculiar prominence. It is the answer that describes our Lord in terms of spiritual or religious genius. As one man has a genius for poetry, and another a genius for mathematics, so are we told today in many quarters that Jesus had a genius for religion. What Shakespeare was within the realm of poetry, and Newton or Kepler within that of science, that, though more conspicuously perhaps, was Jesus in the realm of religion. Now of course there is an element of truth in that, for the one passion of Jesus was religion. It filled His heart; it colored all His life; it was the source of all He said and did. Yet if there be one thing that is growing clearer to me, as I study the mind of Christ in Scripture, it is that the category of genius, as we call it, is quite inadequate to the historic Jesus. I beg to remind you that no man is at liberty to construct a Christ out of his inner consciousness. The one valid procedure for the student is to examine every fact the sources give him. And I wish to show you, if I can, that if a man will only do that seriously, it becomes impossible to think of Christ as genius.
The Achievements of a Genius Can Be Separated from the Personality
Well, in the first place it is a mark of genius that it is separable from its own achievements. This, I think, is not an accident; it is an essential and universal feature. The history of genius is nothing else than the long struggle to liberate its powers. It is the effort to work into expression the forces that are tumultuous within. It is the passion to body out the soul, in block of marble or in word of beauty, which shall live on and be a joy to men when the creator is sleeping in his grave. You can get all the enrichment of a play like Hamlet though you know nothing about William Shakespeare. You can possess the truth of the law of gravitation though you never heard the name of Isaac Newton. You can learn the wonders of modern astronomy, and the interactions of the solar system, though you live in an ignorance as deep as midnight of the life-story of Copernicus. That is the characteristic of all genius. It displays its powers in an external medium. Touched from heaven with the creating impulse, it says, "Let there be light, and there is light." And so the Madonna is a joy forever, though Raphael be but the shadow of a name; and Hamlet feeds us as with the bread of angels, though Shakespeare be inscrutable and still.
You Cannot Separate Jesus' Words and Works from Himself.
Now the moment you turn to the historic Jesus, you are faced by something absolutely different. There is not the faintest suggestion in the records that Christ was struggling to liberate His powers. The one thing you can never do with Christ is to separate His achievement from Himself. His revelation was His personality, and it is through that that He has blessed the world. You can separate the Iliad from Homer, and you can separate Hamlet and Macbeth from Shakespeare, but you can never separate the Redeemer's triumphs from the personality of the Redeemer. The one impression you do not get in Christ is that of forces struggling to express themselves. Christ was not struggling to express Himself; Christ was the expression of the Father. And He was that, not by the way of toil, such as writes anguish on the brow of genius, but naturally and beautifully and constantly, as in the lake is the reflection of the sun. Now I suggest that whatever you call that, it is a misuse of words to call it genius. To talk of Shakespeare and of Raphael and of Christ is to betray an ignorance of data. Think for a moment of what you mean by genius, taking it at its richest and its best, and you will find that it is hopelessly inadequate to cover the fact of the historic Lord.
Genius Varies in Degrees
In the next place, I ask you to observe that genius is a matter of degrees. In one man it is a flame of splendor, and in another it is a tiny spark. There are poets, for instance, of whom we say that undoubtedly they have a touch of genius. Well-nigh every Scottish countryside has had its poet with a touch of genius. There was a touch of genius in Walter Watson, a touch of genius in Hugh Macdonald, a touch of genius in fifty I could name to you, who have sung and sorrowed and suffered at our doors. On some men genius lays her hand so lightly that the touch of her fingers is almost imperceptible. Others she grasps into her straining arms, and breathes her very soul upon their lips. And so at the one extreme you have these gentle souls who have lilted beside innumerable waters, and at the other you have a Dante or a Milton. They are more than talented, these differing men; they are brothers in the gift of genius. Separated by a thousand differences, they are all kindled by a common fire. The humblest maker of a genuine lyric is a true citizen of that immortal kingdom where Chaucer and Spenser and Dryden are the peers, and one who was born by the Avon is the king. Genius, then, has its less and has its more. It is capable of compression and expansion. In one life it is shining as the sun; in another it is gleaming as a star. And all this, mark you, in perfect independence of any theory of what genius is, for we are not discussing that, but taking it in its common acceptation.
Jesus Stands Alone as Unique in History
Now when you study Jesus Christ in Scripture, one impression becomes overwhelming. It grows upon you that He stands alone, in incommunicable, solitary grandeur. The one thing you can never do with Christ is to regard Him as belonging to a class. The one thing that is utterly incredible is that of Him there should be less or more. You may talk of the goodly fellowship of the martyrs, and of the glorious company of the apostles, but over against us all--confronting us--there stands, alone, the person of our Lord. No man cometh to the Father but by Me--no man knoweth the Father but the Son. I am the way--I am the truth--I am the life--he that believeth on Me shall never die. That is not a case of less or more, my brother, that is absolute truth or it is falsehood, and to say that other men can share in that is to say what is irreverent and ridiculous. You may find shadowing of the virgin birth in many a story of the old mythologies. You may find parallels to every word of Jesus in the literatures of India or of Rome. But the inexplicable thing is this, that, when every religion has been ransacked, the deepest impression made by Christ on men is that of an incommunicable grandeur. In the unconditional obedience He demands--in His unparalleled and stupendous claims--in His immediate knowledge of the Father--in the absence of the least consciousness of sin in Him--I say that there is a historic fact which is not only different in degree, but is absolutely different in kind from anything that the world has ever seen. Now we are not discussing what we shall call it; we are simply discussing what we shall not call it. And I suggest that if words have any meaning, whatever we call it we shall not call it genius. And we shall not speak of Shakespeare and Christ again as if they stood upon a common platform. Over against us all, including Shakespeare, there stands forever the figure of our Lord.
Genius Is Notoriously Unhappy
In the next place, I ask you to observe that genius is notoriously unhappy. It is a dowry that is wet with tears, and wrapped in the sable coverings of anguish. Even in the common relationships of life we know how often genius is unhappy. There is such quivering sensibility in genius, that only the grace of God can give serenity. And if you are looking for a happy home, where the wife wakens with a singing heart, you know, if you are students of biography, that it is rarely in the dwellings of genius that you find it. Yet, after all, that is not the deepest of it; the sorrow of genius is a deeper thing. It is the sorrow of the heart that has seen heaven, and yet cannot climb the ladder to the throne. It is the craving of the soul for the ideal; the haunting of visions that are unrealized; the torture, after years of striving, of an imperfect mastery of one's material. When he has poured himself into his best, the genius feels that there is still a better. When he has wrought out his crowning toil, he is still haunted with a sense of failure.
No Sense of Failure Ever Possessed Jesus
And the singular thing about Jesus Christ is this, that no such sense of failure ever touched Him, though He had a task to do so mighty that beside it that of the artist is but play. You never find Jesus craving for the ideal; you find Him always living in the ideal. You never find Him yearning for a better; you find Him always dwelling with the best. You never find Him, when His day is over, crying "Alas, what a failure I have been"; you find Him crying gloriously "It is finished." My brother, if I know anything of genius, most emphatically that is not genius. It is a fact, and genius is a fact, but the two facts belong to different worlds. And he who will have it that Jesus was a genius, has either very hazy thoughts of genius, or else, what is far more deplorable, has very hazy thoughts of Christ.
Genius Makes Us Conscious of Our Distance
Another feature of genius is this, that it always makes us conscious of our distance. Indeed to me that seems one of its essential elements. When I meet with a man of ordinary talent, I am not conscious of any great remoteness. However able my honored brother be, he does not impress me as aloof from me. But whenever I am face to face with genius, even if it only be a spark of genius, then immediately I feel a separation. The life I know best is of course the preacher's life, and that has always been my experience there. When I listen to an average preacher, I am not greatly distressed about my sermons. But when I listen, on some rare occasion, to a preacher of real spiritual genius, then, not as a man but as a minister, I go home miserable and in despair. It is too high for me, I cannot attain unto it. I want to be silent and never preach again. I want to take these sorry sheets of mine, and burn them, and have done with them forever. Such is the feeling that genius creates, a strange disabling sense as of a distance, leading us to feel that all is useless, and bringing us to the margins of despair.
Jesus Made People Feel Very Near Him in Spite of His Uniqueness
I need hardly tell you that in the presence of Christ men never have been conscious of that feeling. The more they have felt His infinite transcendence, the more they have felt that in Him they had a brother. He is nearer to us a thousand times than Dante. He is nearer to us a thousand times than Shakespeare. In our intensest moments, when the deeps are calling, He is nearer to us than our hands and feet. "Come unto Me and I will give you rest," and men in their multitudes have come to Him. The poor have come, and the prodigals have come, and the waifs and strays and wreckage of humanity. Yet I never read amid all that broken earthenware of one who was overwhelmed with Jesus' distance, but I have read of thousands who have cried, "Christ is mine, praise God, and I am His." My brother, whatever you call that, it does not occur to me to call it genius. That is not the impression genius makes, so far as I have any knowledge of the matter. I know how a man feels when faced by Plato. I know how a man feels when faced by Shakespeare. And I know emphatically it is not thus he feels when he is faced by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Genius Evokes Wonder and Not Worship as Jesus Does
And so that leads me to my closing thought, that genius evokes wonder and not worship, and all through the ages worship and not wonder has been faith's final attitude to Christ. From first to last, in the New Testament, Christ is the object of adoring worship. Confronted by no august tradition, the apostles found themselves bowing at His feet. And from that day on to this, every believer in his holiest hours has carried all that he has found in Jesus into the heart of the eternal God. Seeking God's will, he has followed Christ's will; listening for God's voice, he has heard Jesus' voice. The love revealed on the cross is not man's love to him: it is the love that harbors in the heart of God. Until, not as a matter of reasoning, but by sheer power of spiritual impression, he has bowed down and worshipped at Christ's feet. The matter was never more beautifully put than in that exquisite story about Charles Lamb. You remember how Lamb and his friends one evening were talking about people they would like to have met. And one said he would like to have met Chaucer, and another brought up the name of Sir Thomas Browne. And at length that sacred name was mentioned--the name which is above every name. And there was a pause, and then Lamb said, in his slow, gentle, and stammering way, "If Shakespeare came into the room we should all stand up, but if He came in we should all kneel." Saint Charles!--as Thackeray once called thee--thou hadst the right of it with that dear heart of thine. There in a single sentence is the difference, felt always, yet not always uttered. Yes, if Shakespeare came into our midst, we should all stand up, we students, to acclaim him; but if HE came in, we should all kneel.
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